Miami V(o)ice(s)

Global Voices team members Lova, Jeremy, Lokman and Jillian.
Not pictured: Amira, Eddie, Georgia, Ivan, Leonard and Solana.

I got back from Miami today after four days of passionate conversations about the authenticity of travel (and travel writing) and whether or not Mates of State actually sing a cover of These Days and what to name our cheese babies. I was also lucky to share breakfast sandwiches, beaches, swimming, a sweet backyard pool and a bright green stuffed ferret that looked more like a jalapeño pepper than an animal with some of the best housemates I've ever had south of the Mason-Dixon line.

(I also went to We Media Miami 2009, which you can read about here and here. A huge thanks goes to them for sponsoring part of our costs to attend the conference, which challenged the way I think and communicate about new media as a member of the "Dream Generation.")

Jeremy wrote earlier about how blessed he feels to be working with Global Voices, and I want to echo his love for the organization and the amazing people that constitute it. I am so happy to have found this community, and jumping back into writing for them has made me happy in a way few things apart from the blogren do.

To my Global Voices housemates: A big giant Florida cheers! And I'm still pulling for the next GV summit to be held in Lawrence, Kansas.

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Global Voices Uganda: Fire destroys Owino Market

It's been a long time since I've written anything for Global Voices, but this week's fire at Owino Market prompted enough of a blogger response (and I've been sufficiently inspired by my week in Miami with ten other GV-ers) that I had to post a round-up:
A massive fire gutted Kampala's Owino Market early Wednesday morning, seriously injuring five people and destroying thousands of stalls. As many as 25,000 traders, mostly women, are estimated to have suffered losses.

Owino, also known as the Nakivubo Park Yard and St. Balikuddembe Market, is Kampala's largest market and has been at the center of several controversies involving leasing rights. Recent plans to build a new bus terminal at the Nakivubo Stadium next door have sparked anger among vendors, who will lose their space if the development proceeds as planned.

Uganda's Daily Monitor is reporting that the fire started at a hole in the wall separating the market from the stadium, and many victims are accusing the bus company that wants to build the terminal of arson. Some bloggers agree.

Read more »

Featured in this post are Even Steven, Ariaka, Ugandan Insomniac and Spartakuss.

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36 Hours in K'la City

Almost two years ago Josh at In an African Minute posted a guide for tourists on how to spend a weekend in Kampala. He included such highlights as bribing a fisherman to borrow his canoe for an afternoon and relaxing afterward in Kabalagala with the mixed plate, Mama's vegetarian Ethiopian special.

Things have changed since then, largely due to November 2007's Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Cafe Pap, Josh's Saturday afternoon pick, has lost the widescreens and upped the charge for wi-fi, allowing itself to be usurped by the delicious coffee at continential fusion restaurant La Fontaine, where an hour of wireless costs just $1.50.

Lotus Mexicanas, operated by the same couple that owns New York Pizza Kitchen in Garden City, serves up fresh strawberry margaritas and queso that rivals most Tex-Mex restaurants, if not in America, at least on the East Coast, pushing Fat Boyz to the curb.

So, at Josh's urging and because last month I thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering the city, here's the updated version of 36 Hours in K'la City:

2PM Kololo
Start your trip by exploring Kololo, one of Kampala's highest neighborhoods, on foot. Check out the Sudanese, Ethiopian, Cuban, Saudi and Congolese embassies, as well as the US Ambassador's house, and admire the many roadside garden shops and the private airstrip, where President Museveni holds many of his public speeches. If you're lucky, one of Kampala's many marathon trainees will pass you and encourage you to pick up your pace. Join them only if you're feeling particularly spry.

5PM Bubbles O'Leary's
End your walk at this Irish pub, where an afternoon beer will run you less than $2 and the wireless is unlimited and free. Two years ago Bubbles was packed with expats and had a hard-to-find entrance on a tiny side road in Kololo, but the new gigantic sign off Acacia Avenue is hard to miss, and the afternoon crowd skews Ugandan these days. Offer your neighbor a Nile Special and ask if he has a blog.

8PM La Fontaine
If you haven't satisfied your Internet fix, this charming indoor/outdoor restaurant in Kisementi, just up the road from Kololo, is one of Kampala's newest wireless hot spots. Shake hands with Jacob, the host, and order the blue cheese salad, the pumpkin soup or the fish symphony. If Manchester or Chelsea are playing, catch the game on the satellite TV at the bar.

10PM Iguana
After dinner, head next door to Iguana's second floor open air bar, where the plump couches, adventurous DJ and Kampala breezes will ease you into Kampala nightlife. Make sure to peer over the balcony at Kisementi, where late-night snack sellers and various providers of transport hawk their wares to passersby.

10AM Good African Coffee
Brunch in Uganda is somewhat hard to come by, but this bustling coffee shop in Lugogo serves up eggs, potatoes, toast, pastries and more. Order spiced African tea and nurse the hangover you will invariably have after sampling too many of Uganda's half-liter beers.

11:30 AM Lugogo
After brunch, take a leisurely stroll through Lugogo to pick up souvenirs for friends and family back home. Banana Boat, in the Lugogo shopping center, has postcards, jewelry, woven baskets and more. It's popular with tourists, but for a more unique experience head to the wine bar in Lugogo Showgrounds and ask the owner if he has any of his own art for sale. In a few months you should be able to pick up crafts made by women throughout Uganda, courtesy of fair trade organization Awava.

1PM Taxi Tour
Hop on a public taxi taking the Nakawa-Kampala Road-Wandegeya-Kamwokya-Bukoto-Ntinda route, and ride the whole thing. It will take several hours and you'll get many stares — be prepared for the conductor to use you as a selling point, enticing passengers by promising them a seat near the muzungu. Smile and shake many hands while you get a whirlwind tour of some of Kampala's most bustling neighborhoods and busiest streets, as well as a hands-on introduction to the public transportation system.

4PM Kampala Road
Get off the taxi just a little after finishing the round trip. Stretch your legs and breathe, then make your way to 1000 Cups on Buganda Road for a much-needed cup of coffee and a chance to browse Kampala's newspapers.

7PM Lotus Mexicanas
Start your evening off right in Lotus Mexicanas' garden, where the friendly waiters will keep you well-supplied with margaritas (on the rocks or frozen) and tortilla chips. Order the enchiladas or the quesadillas and revel in all the cheese.

10PM Steak Out
Head to this open-air bar in Wandegeya to hang out with Makerere University students and, increasingly, a hearty sampling of Uganda's bloggers. Stay away from the pepper vodka.

10AM Central Kampala
Sunday morning is Kampala's finest hour. The streets are cool and empty, making it the perfect time to explore central Kampala. Take pictures of the gigantic maribou storks lurking around Parliament, wander through the maze of streets that make up the northern part of downtown, then make your way down Kampala Road to the Old Taxi Park.

11AM Old Taxi Park
Marvel at the organized chaos and at the smorgasbord of seemingly random products being sold in the melee — everything from electric tea kettles to stilettos to sliced pineapple. Sadly, Owino Market (which Josh recommended) was burned to the ground early yesterday morning, so you won't be able to explore its vast wealth of used clothing, herbal medicines and old books.

12PM Masala Chaat House
End your weekend in Kampala at the Masala Chat House on Dewinton Road near the National Theatre, where the gentle fans and a cold lassi will revive you after the crush of Old Kampala. Enjoy an immense metal tray of masala dosas, a house speciality, as you make plans to visit again soon.


cupcakes and robots: Wednesday at We Media

I'm in Miami this week for the We Media conference, which brings together "leaders and ideas shaping media, business, communication, technology, education and participation in the connected society."

Among yesterday's events, which included a video presentation by David Plouffe and a brainstorming session on the future of business, media, education, philanthropy and government (in under two hours, no less), my favorite was something called "Decoding the Culture."

Led by marketing strategist John Fischer, along with founder David Liu and Darryl Perkins of the Hip Hop Caucus, Decoding the Culture started with Coca-Cola and cleaning products and ended with teledildonics.

Maybe I should explain.

Fischer's job is to make generalizations about culture — to look at human desires (like concern for the health of one's family) and connect them to trends (like the growing interest in organic food), then predict what comes next. After the most beautifully simple slide presentation I've ever seen, Fischer encouraged the participants to flip through a stack of old magazines and rip out anything we found that seemed portentous (I should add that he warned us ahead of time that culture-decoding "takes practice"). He asked that we tag each image with a post-it note describing its significance and then paste them all together in a giant collage that would eventually help us complete the statement:
Because [blank] is happening today,
[blank] will happen tomorrow.

My group's generalization started with a slew of ads emphasizing individual choice and ultra-personalization: coffee pods that come in 40 flavors! Mini cupcakes so you can put together your very own combination of half a dozen flavors! A portable digital photo printer that lets you express your Epsonality©!

And then Nathan James of the Media & Democracy Coalition found this Svedka ad:

That's right. It's a hypersexualized female robot handing you a cocktail.

This led us to a discussion of objectification, during which we wondered if robots are allowed to be gendered, whether female robots were the greatest dehumanization of women or whether, by focusing desire on inanimate objects, they represent the highest freedom. Regardless, we agreed that the robot was clearly designed to appeal to a specific desire, and the fact that it was built piece by piece means it is the perfect customization of that desire. Will personalized sexbots be the way that the current waves of individual expression and technology ultimately meet?
Because customized cupcakes are happening today, robot marriages will happen in the future.

I'm not sure if that's exactly the takeaway Fischer was hoping for, but I think the exercise is still useful. For example: technology use is both increasing and diversifying in Uganda — more people are using more and more services and applications in more and more ways. What does this trend indicate for the future of, say, politics in East Africa? What are the implications for entrepreneurs, for web developers, for ICT companies? I'm not as good at culture forecasting as Fischer (um, clearly), but I kind of wish someone would send me a copy of African Woman so I can keep the creative collage juices flowing.

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jackfruit of the week (02.23.09): superheroes!

Louisiana jackfruit, from the Hong Kong Food Market in Gretna, LA. Courtesy of Sonia Smith.
I'm taking a little break from the media-tech-Africa jumble that's normally Jackfruit of the Week to point you all to a hilarious/amazing/inspiring project one of my housemates is working on.

This is Chaim:

Chaim's a filmmaker:

Chaim's also a superhero:

Together, he's a superhero filmmaker. Or a filmmaking superhero (you can decide):

(Here's the part where I went, "No, really?" and Chaim went, "Yes, really." I'll give you a minute.)

Chaim isn't a Halloween superhero or a comic book superhero or a big fancy convention superhero. He's a real life superhero who spends hours and hours feeding hungry New Yorkers, cleaning up trash and building homes. He's part of a whole group of real superheroes that the New York Times profiled in 2007, including an ex-sex worker who uses martial arts to protect her former co-workers and a man who fixes leaky faucets for free. All of them — and there are hundreds throughout the world — are visible icons of community service and activism, and Chaim's documenting their story at Superheroes Anonymous:

Here's the part where I cheat a little and bring it back to Africa. Each month, Superheroes Anonymous chooses a cause to support. February's is Starvation Salvation, an effort to raise money for PASSOP, a South African non-profit that, among other things, smuggles food into Zimbabwe to feed people who need it. If you don't feel like breaking out your cape and spending a day helping your own community, think about helping PASSOP out.

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Save Darfur: update

Monday's post about why the International Criminal Court should hold off on an arrest warrant for al-Bashir left out a couple of interesting details: last Thursday, the New York Times reported that a warrant had already been issued, an announcement the ICC immediately refuted.

Practicing for the real thing? Accident? What do you guys think?

Hat tip: Kate Cronin-Furman at Wronging Rights

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Save Darfur

Why the UN Security Council should stop the ICC’s efforts to indict al-Bashir

The International Criminal Court’s recent fumbled attempt to try Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is the latest addition to a series of reasons why an ICC indictment of Sudanese president Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir would be unwise.

Darfur refugee Sam Ouandja
Darfur refugee Sam Ouandja
Photo courtesy of hdptcar on Flickr
Lubanga’s trial, which began last month after nearly three years of delays, was marred by incompetent handling of its first witness: a former child soldier who withdrew his testimony before the end of the first day, saying he had never served in Lubanga’s army and claiming that a humanitarian aid organization had told him what to say.

The witness had been promised that his identity would be kept a secret, but he took the stand in full view of those in the courtroom, including Lubanga. After he changed his story, it emerged that pre-trial judges had prevented the prosecution from witness proofing, a two-part process where lawyers can walk witnesses through the courtroom before the trial and explain procedure, and where witnesses can practice answering questions and can re-read their own prior testimonies to refresh their memories. Though different countries have different policies on witness proofing, the international criminal tribunals for both the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone all chose to allow it, citing its ability to prevent incidents like the one in the Hague last month.

Things are even messier in Sudan, where the ICC announced last July that it is considering indicting al-Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – a double first for the court, which has neither indicted a sitting head of state nor charged anyone with genocide. Moreno-Ocampo would like to charge al-Bashir with more than 300,000 deaths in Darfur and the internal displacement of nearly three million Sudanese citizens. He claims that the president ordered both Sudanese armed forces and the Janjaweed militia to attack and destroy villages belonging to three separate ethnic groups in Darfur.

Burning village painting at encampment for Darfur
Burning village painting at encampment for Darfur
Photo courtesy of on Flickr

What’s happening in Darfur is despicable, and al-Bashir is undoubtedly responsible – if not for instigating the violence, at least for his failure to attempt to stop it. At the same time, the ICC’s charges, if passed (a decision is expected in November), will carry little weight. Sudan has signed but not ratified the Rome Statute, the act that created the court. This means the country is not legally bound to follow any ICC directives, raising the question of who, exactly, will waltz into Khartoum and slap handcuffs on al-Bashir. When news of the potential arrest warrant broke in July of last year, the deputy foreign minister of South Africa — a country whose post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been praised for its success — admitted that al-Bashir would likely never be arrested and said a warrant would not help bring peace to Darfur.

Even if al-Bashir’s arrest were probable, it would not be immediate, giving him ample time to retaliate against Darfur, something both experts and aid workers in Darfur say is likely. The day after the ICC announced its intentions to investigate al-Bashir, anti-Western riots took place in Khartoum and Darfur. It’s not unthinkable that, were the indictment to become a reality, Sudan might shut its doors to international aid organizations whose presence is still desperately needed in Darfur.

The ICC has a history of missteps in Africa. Its 2005 indictments – the court’s first – of five leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group infamous for child abduction and extreme brutality, are widely blamed for disrupting the peace process in Uganda. LRA leader Joseph Kony reportedly walked out of negotiations with the Ugandan government upon learning of the warrants, and the group, which had eased its attacks in Uganda, has since launched a renewed offensive that included the massacre of nearly 1000 Congolese civilians last December.

In 2007, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni asked the court to suspend the indictments in favor of a local justice process, hoping to encourage Kony to sign a peace agreement. Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo refused, and Kony is still in hiding as his troops pillage their way through northeastern Congo.

Article 16 of the Rome Statute gives the UN Security Council the power to put the ICC’s decision on hold indefinitely for any reason. Both the African Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference have pressured the Security Council to invoke the article, provided al-Bashir agrees to make a good faith effort toward peace in Darfur. Suspending the prosecution, if only temporarily, would avoid increased bloodshed and would allow the ICC to work through its trial issues with Lubanga before embarking on yet another case. If the ICC’s handling of the Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo cases are any indication of the court’s ability to carry out their mandate in the best interests of African conflicts’ victims, the Security Council should comply.

Crossposted on The Morningside Post and The Huffington Post (albeit with a disappointing typo in the title)

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NYT aids in failed plan to help Americans understand the LRA conflict

The front page of today's New York Times proclaims that the U.S. Aided a Failed Plan to Rout Ugandan Rebels.

A couple of things:

1) Maybe I'm just being crotchety and pessimistic, but is it really news that the United States has been assisting the Ugandan military in its less-than-successful attempts to confront the LRA? Operation Iron Fist comes to mind.

2) The article claims, "The Ugandan government has tried coaxing Mr. Kony out. But the International Criminal Court in The Hague has indicted him on charges of crimes against humanity, and he has long insisted the charges be dropped." We've talked about this before on Jackfruity, but the ICC didn't just swoop in against the government's wishes and hand out arrest warrants like concert flyers. Museveni referred the case to them.

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jackfruit of the week (02.05.09) - TED

Bungee jumping Jinja jackfruit, courtesy of Mr. King
TED is one of my favorite things in the world: a blend of technology, entertainment and design (hence the acronym) plus a hefty dose of international affairs, science and the arts. Case in point: a talk on African fractals by ethno-mathematician Ron Eglash. I could get lost for hours (and have) in the twenty-minute video presentations on everything from the mystery behind Lost to the art of letter writing.

How fortunate, then, that TED 2009 is this week. Over 50 speakers — artists, scientists, musicians, entrepreneurs and one aerialist — are congregating in California, sharing their ideas and basking in their combined brilliance. You can follow along with live broadcasts or check out the TED Fellows blog.